Lewis & Roth Publishers
TO: The Reader
SUBJECT: How it all got started
I remember the exact moment I realized my wife and I were headed for divorce. It came to me during one of our shouting matches. I had just thrown out an accusation guaranteed to cut her to the quick—a handy trick I’d used many times to move us from gridlock to resolution. Normally she’d stop dead in her tracks, get teary-eyed, and start back-pedaling. From there I could usually get us onto the same page and moving to the more important things of life (like, “What’s for dinner?”).
But this time it didn’t work that way. When I hurled my accusation, she actually smiled at me (unpleasantly) and muttered, “Whatever.” Though at one level I sensed the match was over, I still tried making my point from different angles, but none of them took. In fact, she didn’t even let me finish. Right in the middle of my last attempt, she left the room—not in tears or in a rage, but disinterested. As if she couldn’t be bothered to continue. That’s when it struck me. She didn’t care. Not about me, not about the argument, and not about our marriage. She was done.
My hunch turned out to be correct. She even had an escape plan in place, and if it weren’t for the intervention of a close friend I’d be single right now.
Now, I say “a close friend,” but it didn’t start out that way. Up to that point, Carter was a bit of an enigma to me. A successful businessman, he was also a rancher with an enormous spread of land southwest of town. He could talk stocks and investments with the best of us, but then he’d always throw in some crazy comment about having to go spread manure and head for his truck. He had a way of dismissing us younger guys with colorful putdowns and questions about our manliness. Jokingly, he’d refer to us young bucks as sissies, slackers, slugs, or varmints of one kind or another, yet there’s not a single one of us he didn’t intentionally pursue with friendly intent. Over time I came to see how deeply he cared about us and wanted to see us grow into men. (He was also clear about what a man is supposed to be. “A man,” he’d say, “stands for something. A man is more concerned about a stain on his character than a stain on his pants. A man cares more about keeping his integrity above reproach than about keeping his SUV spotless. A man opens the car door for his wife, and at all times treats her with honor and respect.”) To be honest, he made being a man something I wanted very much for myself.
One weekend, when a bunch of us were hunting together, he abruptly turned to me and asked how my wife, Sue, was doing. Aside from being totally unprepared for such a question during a hunting trip, I was hesitant to let him know. “She’s great,” I said, then changed the subject. He didn’t let it rest, however. The next morning at breakfast, he asked again. I told him things could be better, but we’d be OK. By the look on his leathery, unshaven face, I knew that he knew I was full of bull.
I’d always wondered how he got to be an elder at our church. His rough and gruff manner didn’t strike me as typical of a churchman, yet behind his crusty appearance there was definite warmth. That morning over the campfire things began to make sense. Although he thoroughly understood the demands of business and never made me feel guilty about my “workaholic” tendencies, he was unapologetically straightforward about the self-serving way most men approach life. He shared stories from his life and marriage and didn’t try to make things sound perfect and wonderful. At some point that weekend, I realized he was an authentic Christian, and I decided I trusted him.
The night Sue walked away from our argument, she also left the house “to go visit a friend.” To be honest, it was pretty ugly. I told her not to hurry back, which I thought would finally trigger those tears of remorse I’d been looking for, but she only returned an emotionless, “Don’t worry, I won’t,” and drove off. I slammed the door for effect, but something in my mind was going, uh-oh. This time seemed different. She is so disinterested. She doesn’t love me anymore. The more I considered it, the more convinced I became. After a couple hours of brooding, I admitted to myself that we’d crossed a serious line in our relationship. I’d always fought to win, and now winning wasn’t the issue. I didn’t have a clue what to do.
That’s when I thought of Carter. Not that I wanted counseling. Sue and I had already tried that several times, and it only made things worse. We’d sit in somebody’s office explaining what each other did that made us hurt or angry, then we’d go home and fight about what we said. I’m sure the counselors were moved by our situation and genuinely tried to help, but I was too stubborn to give any ground. Somehow I couldn’t picture Carter letting Sue and me get away with that. After staring at his number in our church directory for several minutes, I picked up the phone.
True to form, Carter greeted me with, “Hello, Slacker,” and told me to get my “sorry rear end” down to his office the next day, preferably together with Sue. Fortunately, Sue agreed to come (more out of respect for Carter than for my sake). Right away I knew this session would be different. From the moment we walked in the door, Carter’s loving but no-nonsense approach hit us right between the eyes. He used the Bible to explain what was going on in our hearts, and he used ranch and animal analogies to help us see what we were doing to each other. Even now I can’t help but view cows with a subtle kinship, not to mention horses, turkeys, pigs, goats, elk, deer, fence posts, barbed wire, manure spreaders, and a host of other things I’d never heard of before. (I now understand why Jesus used so many parables in His teaching.)
Initially Sue was taken aback by Carter’s blunt statements and willingness to confront, and his illustrations were certainly not easy for my male ego to swallow. More than once I decided not to come back. (Imagine being compared to a pig, a posthole digger, or a pile of manure. One time he referred to me as a fence staple—sharp, crooked, and bent toward myself.) I can still see his boots on the desk and the mud on his jeans. It’s one thing to resist the “opinions” of a professional, but who can resist the observations of a cowboy? When somebody is willing to put truth in your face, it has a way of defining reality. Gradually I came to see my behavior as unacceptable and my childish tantrums as outright sin. I was an abusive husband—not to mention proud, arrogant, insecure, and totally self-focused—and Carter didn’t mince words. But he also didn’t lord it over me. He’d had his share of failures and freely told us about them. His marriage had been on the rocks at one point, and the journey back from that experience left him with a humility I could not resist. Sometimes a spade has to be called a spade, and I’m grateful he had the courage and gentleness to do it well. His belief in Sue and me helped us rediscover our belief in ourselves, and the years since then have been better than I’d ever imagined they could be. Which brings me to the present.
For some time after our meetings with Carter, Sue and I made it a point to invite him and his wife, Minnie, over every now and then to eet our friends. Whether it was their age, experience, or earthy humor, they always fit in well and seemed to spark probing conversations. At one of those get-togethers, Sue’s good friend from work, Stacy, started asking lots of questions about Jesus Christ. She and her fiancé, Mitch, became regular fixtures whenever Carter and Minnie came around, and they even had Carter do their premarital counseling.
About six months later, my job took me several hours north to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and a few months after that Mitch and Stacy also moved there. However, as things steadily improved for Sue and me, we began to feel concern for Mitch and Stacy. We saw them less frequently, and when we did get together with them, Sue and I always felt troubled afterward. Consequently, we weren’t surprised when the doorbell rang late one Thursday night.
I’ve decided to share their story with you because it meant a lot to me, and to many of the guys at my church. Once again, Carter played a significant role, only this time he met us in our own homes—via email. In many ways I actually think email was exactly what Mitch needed. For one thing, it’s much easier to get personal “impersonally” via the computer than sitting face-to-face in somebody’s office with your spouse. It also gave Mitch time to reread each message after calming down from his initial reactions. (Carter is nothing if not “to the point.”) All I know is that we saw miraculous things happen in all of our marriages, and Stacy gave me permission to share the whole story with you. So, here goes. . . .